What is Self-Directed Learning (SDL)?

Let’s start with a definition from an industry expert (Knowles, 1975, p. 18):

“In its broadest meaning, ‘self-directed learning’ describes a process by which individuals take the initiative, with or without the assistance of others, in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating learning goals, identifying human and material resources for learning, choosing and implementing appropriate learning strategies, and evaluating learning outcomes.”

In recent years, Focus has adopted a self-directed approach to learning. Not content with following the method of teaching employed in most schools (virtually unchanged since the Victorian era), our focus on developing self-directed learners is adding to our story of success; those who are taking up the keys of their own learning, opening their own doors to broader, deeper and richer learning experiences. Given scope to investigate, explore and evaluate, students are now more than able to take the initiative and drive their own learning programmes in styles and environments that they understand and enjoy.

In self-directed learning, it is the student who takes both the initiative and the responsibility for their learning. In essence, students are “learning to learn”. The self-directed journey is one in which students learn to think critically, to process information perceptually, to analyse data accurately and evaluate situations intelligently in order that they fulfill their true potential.

Students begin to integrate self-directed learning into their approach in Year 3. This is accomplished with the use of student diaries in which students set out their goals for learning and reflect on how and whether they have achieved those goals. As they progress through the lower school, they take more and more responsibility for the process of their learning until they reach the high school environment, where the majority of student learning is self-directed.

In SDL, once the student takes the initiative for their learning, that student then assumes complete responsibility and accountability for their learning experience. It is the student who then follows that learning through to its conclusion. This does not mean that there is no input from others, quite the contrary. However, in the SDL model, the teacher is no longer the “sage on the stage” but rather a “guide at the side”, and students learn from many different resources, including each other. The crucial element is that the student drives his or her learning experience, beginning with recognising a need to learn.

The benefits of self-directed learning are numerous. It promotes in students a natural development of self-confidence, perseverance, initiative and accountability. With self-directed learning, students become lifelong learners, and its benefits can be felt long after a student has left school.